BWW Reviews: ME AND MY GIRL - Madcap Midsummer Mirth
Me and My Girl
Book and Lyrics by L. Arthur Rose and Douglas Furber, Music by Noel Gay, Book Revisions by Stephen Fry, Contributions to the Revisions by Mike Ockrent; Original Production Directed by Mike Ockrent and Choreographed by Gillian Gregory; Scenic Design, Richard E. Schreiber; Lighting Design, David Wilson; Costumes, Kansas City Costumes; Technical Director, Lori E. Baruch; Production Stage Manager, Olivia Gemelli; Dialect Coach, Carole Healey; Conductor, Jeffrey P. Leonard; Music Direction, Dan Rodriguez; Direction and Recreation of the Original Choreography, Cynthia Thole
CAST (in order of appearance): Shonna Cirone, Devon Stone, Harold "Jerry" Walker, Catherine Lee Christie, Chris Charron, Jack F. Agnew, Carole Healey, Rishi Basu, Daniel Forest Sullivan, Joshua Holden, Jamie Buxton, Alyssa Surrette, Jackie Theoharis, Maya Murphy, Tom Richardson, Alex Marz, Danny Meglio; DANCE ENSEMBLE: Noa Baker-Durante, Michael Baskowski, Joseph Cullinane, Nicholas Davis, Leonardo Galletto, Lenni Kmiec, Matthew Kossack, Emily Loewus, Danny Meglio, Allsun O'Malley, Bretten Popiel, Jillian Rossi, Sarah Warrick, Brittany Zeinstra; VOCAL ENSEMBLE: Serge Clivio, Paul Marchesiani, Alex Marz, Tyler Morrill, Maya Murphy, Lindsay Ortmeyer, Tom Richardson, Alyssa Surrette, Jackie Theoharis, Nicole Vander Laan, Mara Wilson, Gary Vincent
Performances through July 20 by Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston at the Robinson Theatre, 617 Lexington Street, Waltham, MA; Box Office 781-891-5600 or www.reaglemusictheatre.com
Combine the madcap banter of the Marx Brothers with a twist on the Pygmalion theme, mix with some Three Stooges-like antics, and sprinkle liberally with malapropisms, and you've got the makings of the surprisingly refreshing British musical comedy Me and My Girl, the second offering in the 46th Summer Season of the Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston. Originally a success in England in 1937, the revival became a Broadway smash in 1986, garnering eleven Tony Award nominations, and it proved to be a crowd-pleaser on opening night at the Robinson Theatre in Waltham. Music Director Dan Rodriguez sits in with the twenty-piece orchestra conducted by Jeffrey P. Leonard and they make the lively score soar from the first notes of the good, old-fashioned Overture through the rousing Finale.
Whether it is in spite of or because of the often groan-worthy one-liners and some rather stereotypical characters, this battle of the classes, as the doyenne of Hareford Hall in Hampshire tackles the challenge of turning a Cockney slob into a gentleman, works on so many levels. And at the top of the heap is leading man and Peabody native Joshua Holden who embodies the many sides of the Earl-in-training, Bill Snibson. Whatever the role calls for him to be - lowlife guttersnipe or suave, debonair man-about-town; clown, puppeteer, or song-and-dance man - he's got it all and runs away with the show.
Jamie Buxton is Sally Smith, the My Girl to Holden's Me, and she matches him step for step in their tap dance to the title song, reminiscent of Eleanor Powell with her relaxed, confident style. Buxton is also gifted with a beautiful singing voice that wrings all of the emotion from "Once You Lose Your Heart," but the sound system does her no favors as the amplification is uneven and tinny. (In a Saturday morning live appearance on 88.9 WERS-FM's "Standing Room Only," the special quality of her voice received its due.) Carole Healey plays the overbearing Duchess in the fine tradition of Margaret Dumont, spending most of her time looking down her nose at the Cockney clan. Healey also deserves credit for fine work as the dialect coach for the ensemble, with the result being that everyone sounds authentic and you can still understand what they're saying.
Rishi Basu is the blustery, pompous Sir John Tremayne, a virtual eunuch lingering at the Duchess' side. Known for his resonant baritone, Basu impressively trips the light fantastic and shows crack comedic timing alongside Holden in a masculine pas de deux ("Love Makes the World Go Round"). Other ridiculous members of the upper crust household include Lady Jaquie (Shonna Cirone), engaged to Gerald Bolingbroke (Devon Stone) but with designs on the soon-to-be Earl, the family solicitor Parchester (Chris Charron), Charles Heathersett (Daniel Forest Sullivan), the butler with the obligatory stiff upper lip, and various assorted Lords, Ladies, and downstairs help. Cirone delivers on her vocals and shows that she's ready for anything in the comically seductive "You Would If You Could," while Stone has a terrific voice and turns out to be a snappy dancer with quite a spring in his steps fronting the ensemble ("The Sun Has Got His Hat On").
Director/Choreographer Cynthia Thole appeared in the original Broadway cast of Me and My Girl and her staging reflects her deep familiarity with the musical. The big production numbers are exhilarating, none more so than "The Lambeth Walk" when the actors venture into the audience, and she seamlessly moves the large company (and sets) around the stage with artistry and without incident. As is the custom for Reagle productions, the cast is a mix of professional performers and regional talent, many of the latter being students from local high schools and colleges getting the opportunity to learn and practice their craft. Some of the smaller roles are filled from the ranks of the dance and vocal ensembles (Jackie Theoharis is deliciously common as Sally's landlady Mrs. Brown), and Joseph Cullinane (Dance Captain) and Allsun O'Malley stand out among the troupe of well-trained dancers.
Richard E. Schreiber's scenic design includes several painted backdrops to evoke the rooms and grounds at Hareford Hall. My favorite is the Library where large portraits of the family's ancestors conceal actors who come alive when the lighting changes the fabric from opaque to a gauze effect. David Wilson's lighting design draws our focus to individual performers while other things happen around them, such as capturing Buxton in a tight spotlight so that the set can be changed behind her with little disruption. With the addition of some theatrical fog, he also creates an ethereal mood for Bill and Sally's fantasy dance sequence ("Leaning on a Lamppost"). The cast is very well-dressed by Kansas City Costumes, from the fancy party clothes of the swells to the eclectic threads of the hoi polloi.
The action occurs in the late 1930s, but Me and My Girl is both a timeless and time-tested tale that is not diminished by its familiarity. The recognizable characters all possess some quirk that sets them apart from stereotype and the actors make them easy to like despite their human flaws. The songs are sung and the dances danced with brio, the orchestra provides rich accompaniment, and Thole and her company guarantee that the Reagle Music Theatre audience leaves the auditorium doing the Lambeth Walk.
Photo credit: Reagle Music Theatre/Herb Philpott (Joshua Holden, center, and Ensemble)